DeKalb students speak out against dress codeDeKalb County School District Administration and Industrial Complex on Mountain Industrial Blvd. in Stone Mountain. Photo by Dean Hesse
By Logan C. Ritchie, contributor
DeKalb County, GA — Seventh grader Gabby Rosen stood at the podium before the DeKalb County school board on Sept. 12. If she was nervous, it didn’t show. She firmly, politely told the school board that the policy on dress code is “so restrictive and so strict” that it has lost its original purpose.
“I got dress coded for ripped jeans, and I didn’t think that was right. So naturally, I started complaining. [My mother] told me that complaining wasn’t going to get me anywhere because this wasn’t a school policy. It was a district policy,” Rosen told Decaturish.
Her mother told her, “If you wanted to change anything, the school board is the place to do it.”
During her three-minute public comment, Rosen proposed a compromise to school board members: Allow rip jeans and tank tops, with slight restrictions.
“While the dress code may be more strict to mimic a workplace environment, we are not professionals. We are students,” Rosen told the school board.
Rosen, who has attended DeKalb County School District (DCSD) since Kindergarten, noticed Chamblee Middle School administrators did not flag students for dress code the first week of school. Students soon started getting disciplined for ripped jeans, exposed shoulders and too-short shorts.
“People thought that what they wore the first week would be fine in the second week, and it wasn’t,” said Rosen, adding that boys are rarely called out for dress code violations.
The first day the dress code was enforced, a line of students stretched down the hallway to call home asking for a change of clothes. About 40 students were flagged, Rosen estimates. Since then, the numbers have decreased, but remains around 15 students per day.
A student may call home for the first incident. For the second incident, the student is sent to In School Suspension (ISS).
“To me, this stands out as a mix up in priorities. We were missing class time, the vast majority of us from slightly torn jeans or tank tops. Shouldn’t the school district’s first priority be the education of its students?” Rosen asked the school board.
‘Dress code has the same consequence as fighting at school’
Laura Brown, a parent of two girls in DCSD, also spoke at the school board meeting.
“Just last week, a teacher at my daughter’s school told a seventh grade girl that her shorts were too short, and she sent her to ISS. There she was made to lift up her shirt so that the teacher could see the top of her shorts to see how far her shorts were pulled down,” Brown told the school board. “If this happens again, she’ll receive two days of in school suspension. This is the same penalty as for fighting. Do we really equate wearing shorts to fighting?”
Brown said not only are girls are disciplined for dress code “far more often” than boys, girls are being told that their clothes are distracting to the boys around them.
“This is not an acceptable message to send to middle school girls—it sexualizes their bodies and suggests that they are responsible for others’ behavior,” Brown told Decaturish. “And surely, we expect boys to be responsible for their own actions.”
What about the Code of Conduct survey?
The dress code is a system-wide policy included in the DCSD Code of Conduct states, “Students’ clothing can affect their safety, and their appearance can positively or negatively impact the climate of a school.”
DCSD surveyed parents, teachers and community stakeholders in April asking for feedback on the 2022-23 Code of Conduct, including policies on dress code, behavior and devices.
DCSD spokesperson Donald Porter said, “The feedback regarding stakeholders’ input into adjustments to the Student Code of Conduct generated through the district’s annual survey was greatly appreciated. From a practical standpoint, not every suggestion can be implemented. However, each was presented to a review committee for consideration.”
Here’s the 2021-22 Code of Conduct: https://www.dekalbschoolsga.org/documents/code-of-conduct/2021-2022-dcsd-code-of-student-conduct.pdf
Specific to the dress code, stakeholders suggested a range of solutions from “ban shorts altogether” to “implement uniforms for all students.” Stakeholders repeatedly asked for more specific rules, lesser consequences and better enforcement from administrators. Suggestions included:
— Remove gendered words (like “cleavage”) to simplify and reduce prohibitions and to frame the dress code more in terms of general principles/priorities the district wants to emphasize in dress (foremost safety) rather than on enforcement of specific forbidden clothing types.
— Replace the consequences for dress code violations with the consequences for rude behavior, bullying, loitering, obscenities, etc.
— Provide training to all school staff on appropriate actions and language when enforcing the dress code.
Some suggestions were incorporated into the 2022-23 school year dress code.
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